1. Remain obedient to the principal mothers whom I leave in my place, since this is just.
2. And what you do, do it as obeying them, and not as following your own judgment.
3. For obeying them, you will be obeying me; obeying me, you will be obeying Jesus Christ.
In Eph.6:1 we read "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right..." Succinctly and profoundly, Angela goes straight to the heart and purpose of authority and obedience as find it in scripture. To understand Angela's thinking we need to look at her Chapter on Obedience in her Rule for the Company. There she describes obedience as a great light (Rule VIII, 2) and directs us torwards Jesus, who, Angela reminds us, said:
"Non veni facere voluntatem meam: sed eius qui misit me Pater"; that is, I have not come to do my will, but that of the Father who sent me." (Rule, VIII, 3, cf. Jn.6:38)
And so she tells her daughters, in the spirit of Eph.6:1-9:
Obey God and every creature for love of God, as the apostle says, provided that nothing is commanded as contrary to the honour of God and our own integrity. (Rule, VIII 17-18)
The spirit of obedience is to pursue the will of God, rather than one's own judgment. It is thus right, just, to be obedient, obedient to all. We are quite literally reminded of Eph.6:1-9, and in particular, Eph.6:5-7:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Chirst. Obey them not only to win their favour when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people.
And in Rom.13:1-2, we read:
All of you must be willing to obey completely those who rule over you. There are no authorities, except the ones God has chosen. those who now rule have been chosen by God. So when you oppose the authorities, you are opposing those whom God has appointed.
4. Who, in his immense goodness, has chosen me to be mother, both alive and dead, of such a noble Company.
5. And having chosen me, he has also given me the grace to be able to govern according to his will.
Here Angela echoes another key scriptural teaching, namely, that authority is gift. It is not earned, deserved, nor is it one's possession by innate ability or right. We recall the centurion who recognised that gift of authority in Jesus and tghe power of the "authoritative word" to author life:
The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it. (Mt.8:8-9; see also Jn.4:50)
The exchange between Pilate and Jesus also acknoweldges the power of the truly authoritative word as gift:
"Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no pwoer over me if it were not given to you from above..." (Jn.19:10-11)
Hence Angela acknowledges that the exercise of authority is a graced event. As a graced event, the purpose of authority is to author life. We recall the words of Jesus:
By mself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (Jn.5:30)
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (Jn.10:10)
6. Now, if it should happen that you have some just reason to contradict or reproach them, do it with discretion and respect.
7. And if they do not want to pay you heed, have patience.
8. And know that it is right to love the mothers if they are good, and bear with them if they are eccentric.
There is more here than the mere reality that often enough there will be a gap between the ideal towards which we strive and the frailty of the human reality, together with the charity with which we bridge that gap. Angela is also suggesting here that obedience itself is never "blind, unreflective obedience." It is never an abdication of responsibility for one's actions or choices. It is always deliberate, purposeful, a free choice, a discerned choice. We recalled above the condition of obedience from her Rule that it was not to be contrary to the honour of God or integrity of the person being obedient. Also in her Rule, she tells her daughters that, above all:
Obey the counsels and inspirations which the Holy Spirit increasingly sends into our hearts... For the Holy Spirit is the one who (as Jesus Christ says) "docet nos omnem vertitatem"; that, teaches us all truth. (Rule, VIII, 14, 16; Jn.14:26)
Angela invites her daughters to be constantly discerning the truth. In that discernment, occasions may rightly arise that need to be addressed.
Ever practical, Angela gives guidelines for such a process: discretion, respect, patience when they are eccentric! We are reminded of:
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt.5:46-48)
9. And be very careful never to complain, or grumble, or speak ill of them, whether with others or with your daughters.
10. But always and everywhere preserve the honour and respect due to your mothers, seeing that if God commands us to honour our natural fathers and mothers, how much more our spirtual (mothers) should be esteemed.
11. And so, make sure that they are always held in esteem and respect, especially among your daughters.
We might recall:
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. (1 Thes. 5:12-13)
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Heb.13:17)
This is more than the charitable and peaceful interactions that should characterise all Christian relationships. It is more than giving example to others. It is an affirmation of the purpose of the authority given to those who lead. The proper and rightful interaction of authority and obedience is integral to the unity in God to which we are called. Thus it is right to have esteem and respect for our leaders for the task they are asked to take up. The principal mothers, like the colonelli, the spiritual leaders of the Company, are to exercise their authority in a manner of humble service. For the principal mothers, Angela invokes the image of shepherdess and asks:
Therefore, you must make a sound and firm resolution to submit yourselves totally to His will, and with a lively and steadfast faith to receive from Him what you have to do for love Him. (Legacies, Prologue, 22-23) ... I beg you, willingly strive to lead them with love and with a mild and kindly hand, and not imperiously, not harshly, but in everything, willingly be gentle. Pay attention to Jesus Christ who says ... learn from me, he says, that I am gentle and meek of heart ... And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone, and wants to force no one, but only porposes, invites and counsels ... We must be moved solely by charity ... (Third Legacy, 1-4,8-11,15).
And just to drive home the point that there is no exemption to maintaining esteem, dignity and respect for those in authority due to their responsibility given to them, Angela says:
12. And remember, if they are good you do not deserve them, and if they are bad you deserve even worse.
However, immediately she continues more moderately:
13. Still, if you have something in your heart that disturbs you in them, you may rightly and without scruple talk about it in confidence with some person who is good and faithful in many respects and ways.
Echoed here is Mt.18:20 where Jesus says "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them." It is both the discretionary limit on how far something is shared, as well as the "good and faithful" nature of those with whom something is descreetly shared in confidence.
14. Know, however, that where you see clearly that the salvation and honour of your daughters are in danger, you must on no account consent to it, nor tolerate it, nor have any hesitation.
15. Yet, all this always with discernment and maturity of judgment
- on the part of all - the members of the Company, the Colonelli and the Principal Mothers.
There is nothing facile or childish about obedience. Obedience is a way of life for all, a positive way of "authoring" a community deeply attuned to the will of God, "having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind...in your relationships with one another, having the same mindset as Christ Jesus." (Phil.2:2-5).